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This is it! I've given up work -retired from the rat race and am about to start on a 10 year adventure, doing all those things I've been meaning to do but never had the time to do them. I've offloaded my responsibilities and it is now my time. So follow my adventures and see whether I actually manage anything!

Monday, 22 March 2021

Woolwich Arsenal


My next walk along the Thames Path took me through the town of Woolwich. I haven't covered much distance along the path as I am leaving the path to look for places of interest nearby. As I mentioned in a previous post, Henry VIII had one of his 
 dockyards built in Woolwich, so I am interested to find out more about this historic naval and military town.

This small,  round building is the entrance to the Woolwich foot tunnel. This foot tunnel was opened in 1912, ten years after the Greenwich foot tunnel. It was built to provide easy access to the docks north of the river for the workers who lived south of the river. The digging of the tunnels was achieved by using a tunnelling shield but the excavation was done entirely by hand. The tunnel is 1655 feet long (504m) which is a little longer than the Greenwich foot tunnel. it is 69 feet (21m) deep. There is a lift if you don't fancy climbing up and down the stairs. Although the tunnel was open when I walked past the lift wasn't so I didn't bother going down all those steps just for a photo!

Just before you get to the foot tunnel you pass the ferry terminal. This is a free vehicle and pedestrian ferry across the River Thames connecting North Woolwich and Woolwich. The ferries can carry up to 40 vehicles and 150 passengers. There are two boats which run every 5-10 minutes on weekdays and every 15 minutes at the weekend. Being free it is a well used service but in recent years it has been plagued by delays and cancellations. Since 2020 the service has been taken over by  Transport for London to try and improve its reliability.

There's a lot of new developments alongside the river. 
Just beyond the blocks of flats is the Woolwich Arsenal. It was here in 1695 that the Royal Laboratory was set up. It was decided by the Board of Ordnance to move the manufacture of powder and filling shells from the populated area of Greenwich to the more remote Royal Warren where it was called the Royal Laboratory. During the 1700s it also housed a firework factory.  Building then developed gradually in response to different military campaigns and advances in technology.

 In successive years the first barracks took up residency on site and a theatre was erected. The Royal Artillery Band also established a base at Woolwich (1762-2014) and the Royal Military Academy opened with courses that included dancing and drawing. After a visit by George III in 1805 he changed its name from Royal Laboratory to the  Royal Arsenal.  referred to as the Secret City
From 1806 after the departure of the Royal Military Academy the area concentrated on ammunition manufacturing and packing and became a self-contained factory complex. In 1886 factory workers formed a football team and club known as Dial Square FC. It later relocated north of the river and is known today as Arsenal FC.

During WW1 Woolwich Arsenal was referred to as the Secret City employing an estimated 80,000 people around half of whom were women. The jobs were dangerous and physically demanding. Handling explosive chemicals stained the female munition workers' hair and skin yellow, giving them the nickname 'canary girls'.  The Secret City continued making ammunition throughout WW2 and on until manufacturing ceased in 1967 and the Ministry of Defence left in 1994.

By the early 20th century the site was three miles long and one mile wide and had three separate internal rail systems. Most of the buildings still remain. Some have now been converted for residential use, a gym, a museum and offices.

 The London Borough of Greenwich which now owns the site is converting other buildings into a huge arts centre which will have resident orchestras, theatre groups, restaurants, cafes etc. It was due to open the first phase in 2020 but obviously the pandemic has changed all that and I'm not sure when it will be finished and ready to open.

It is possible to walk around the site so let me show you some more of the buildings. These were the guardrooms, built in 1814/5. The river is on the other side of the wall behind the guardrooms. They are now used as coffee shops.

This is a sculpture called 'Assembly' by Peter Burke which is in front of the guardrooms . It represents a group of men coming together. They are all identical and the individual pieces bolted together, I think it is a representation of the role of the Arsenal as a manufacturing factory. If that is the case then perhaps the sculptures should have been women.

This gun is part of the Royal Artillery's collection. More information below:

Chemical Laboratory built in 1864

Central Offices 1905

Rifle shell factory gateway

The gates were cast for the shell foundry at the Regents Canal Iron Works in 1856. They were erected here in 1991.  

It would be interesting to have a tour of the site but that will have to wait until life returns to something like normality.

This was the grand store.

It is a huge site and I wandered around for well over an hour.  It was time to return to the Thames Path.

Back by the river, you can see how wide it is here. It was almost high tide and I can hear the river lapping against the walls that line the embankment. 

 I noticed this lock and I left the path to have a look.
There was a small nature reserve next to a housing estate.
This seemed a good place to finish today's walk as I had to walk back about 3 miles to the Thames Barrier to collect the car. I took note of the names of the roads here as next time I will park in this area to continue my walk along the Thames Path.

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  1. What a great walk. I used to do lots of walks in London before Covid and hope to do more when things are better. Have never been to Woolwich except going past on the bus. Somewhere to explore and maybe take the free ferry.

  2. Fascinating history - I bet locals were awed by that tunnel. A great innovation for the time.

  3. Very cool tour. Imagine the cost of buildng such a long pedestrian tunnel under the river!! And then I wonder how wide and tall it was, how did the ventilate and light it way back when and it just boggles my mind.

    I love your Secret City. My mother worked at the Hampton works in Washington State, where the concentrated Plutonium for nuclear weapons. Some secret as she lived in a dorm and she and the other ladies knew where the fence gaps were so they could go to town after hours and go to the bars and then return.

  4. Always fascinating info and photos you post ~ such history and now new development ~ thanks ~ Xo ~ Happy Week to you ~

    Living moment to moment,

    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  5. I never connected the football club name with the actual word arsenal and of course there would be a connection. Good point about the sex of the sculptures. I am puzzled though. All conservative politicians tell us how much better private companies are at running transport systems, yet TfL has taken over the ferry operation.

  6. Seems like such an interesting place to visit. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Your walks are so interesting, even without the Underground portion. So sad about the women working in a job that was so dangerous .... and they aren’t even represented in the memorial sculpture. It felt just like when we travel in our country and visit some places where sad history happened (and we have way too much) ... sad , but then always glad to have seen it and to have been reminded to learn more ...and it means more once you’ve been there. ...I hope before too long you will be able to tour inside these buildings, but I learned from this part.

  8. What a lovely and interesting walk ... thank you.

    All the best Jan

  9. Great architectures and interesting place to visit....
    Thank you for sharing attractive images...

    Have a wonderful spring

  10. I am very glad that Greenwich is converting the buildings into a huge arts centre for orchestras, theatre, restaurants and cafes. If the architecture was well designed and built, and if it reflects a specific time and place, I would hate it to be pulled down for car parks or fast food take aways.

  11. To live where there is so much history must be wonderful. And thanks for sharing all of it with your admirers! :-)

  12. I'm liking all the old buildings, the gates especially.

  13. Love the small round building and those grand edifices too.

  14. Beautiful ironwork on the gates, and the sculptures are nice but you are right! Why are some of them not women?? Wonderful that parts of it have been put to new purposes and it is being maintained, along with its history.

  15. I'm glad you are still managing to do such interesting walks. I was surprised to learn the Woolwich Ferry is still a free service. I wonder for how long if it's now managed by TFL.


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